SECTION 3
Samuel did not describe to the Israelites the glory of a free Monarchy; but the Evils the People should suffer, that he might divert them from desiring a King.

T HO no restraint had been put upon the lusts of the Hebrew kings, it could be no prejudice to any other nation. They deflected from the law of God; and rejecting him that he should reign over them no longer, they fell into that misery which could affect none but those who enjoy the same blessings, and with the same fury despise them. If their kings had more power than consisted with their welfare, they gave it, and God renounces the institution of such. [1] He gave them a law of liberty; and if they fell into the shame and misery that accompanies slavery, it was their own work. They were not obliged to have any king; and could not without a crime have any but one, who must not raise his heart above the rest of them. This was taught by Moses: And Samuel who spoke by the same spirit could not contradict him; and in telling the people what such a king as they desired would do when he should be established, he did announce to them the misery they would bring upon themselves, by chusing such a one as he had forbidden. This free monarchy, which our author thinks to be so majestically described, was not only displeasing to the prophet, but declared by God to be a rejection of him, and inconsistent with his reign over them. This might have been sufficient to divert any other people from their furious resolution; but the prophet farther enforcing his dissuasion, told them, that God (who had in all other cases been their helper) would not hear them when they should cry to him by reason of their king. This is the majestick description of that free monarchy with which our author is so much pleased: It was displeasing to the prophet, hateful to God, an aggravation of all the crimes they had committed since they came out of Egypt, and that which would bring (as it did) most certain and irreparable destruction upon themselves. But it seems the regal majesty in that age was in its infancy, and little in comparison of that which we find described by Tacitus, Suetonius, and others in later times. He shall take your sons, says Samuel, and set them over his chariots, and your daughters to make them confectioners and cooks; [2] but the majesty of the Roman emperors was carried to a higher pitch of glory. Ahab could not, without employing treachery and fraud, get a small spot of ground for his money to make a garden of herbs: But Tiberius, Caligula and Nero killed whom they pleased, and took what they pleased of their estates. When they had satiated their cruelty and avarice by the murders and confiscations of the most eminent and best men, they commonly exposed their children to the lust of their slaves. If the power of doing evil be glorious, the utmost excess is its perfection; and 'tis pity that Samuel knew no more of the effects produced by unrestrained lust, that he might have made the description yet more majestick: and as nothing can be suffer'd by man beyond constupration, torments and death, instead of such trifles as he mention'd, he might have shew'd them the effects of fury in its greatest exaltation.

If it be good for a nation to live under such a power, why did not God of his own goodness institute it? Did his wisdom and love to his people fail? Or if he himself had not set up the best government over them, could he be displeased with them for asking it? Did he separate that nation from the rest of mankind, to make their condition worse than that of others? Or can they be said to have sinned and rejected God, when they desir'd nothing but the government, which by a perpetual ordinance he had established over all the nations of the world? Is not the law of nature a rule which he has given to things? and the law of man's nature, which is reason, an emanation of the divine wisdom, or some footsteps of divine light remaining in us? Is it possible that this which is from God, can be contrary to his will; and can he be offended with those who desire to live in a conformity to that law? Or could it justly be said, the people had chosen that which is not good, if nothing in government be good but what they chose?

But as the worst men delight in the worst things, and fools are pleased with the most extreme absurdities, he not only gives the highest praises to that which bears so many marks of God's hatred; but after having said that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were kings, he goes on, and says, The Israelites begged a king of Samuel;[3] which had been impertinent, if the magistrates instituted by the law were kings: and tho it might be a folly in them to ask what they had already, it could be no sin to desire that which they enjoyed by the ordinance of God. If they were not kings, it follows that the only government set up by God amongst men wanted the principal part, even the head and foundation, from whence all the other parts have their action and being; that is, God's law is against God's law, and destroys itself.

But if God did neither by a general and perpetual ordinance establish over all nations the monarchy which Samuel describes, nor prescribe it to his own people by a particular command, it was purely the peoples' creature, the production of their own fancy, conceived in wickedness, and brought forth in iniquity, an idol set up by themselves to their own destruction, in imitation of their accursed neighbours; and their reward was no better than the concession of an impious petition, which is one of God's heaviest judgments. Samuel's words are acknowledged by all interpreters, who were not malicious or mad, to be a dissuasion from their wicked purpose; not a description of what a king might justly do by virtue of his office, but what those who should be set up against God and his law would do when they should have the power in their hands: And I leave such as have the understandings of men, and are not abandoned by God, to judge what influence this ought to have upon other nations, either as to obligation or imitation.

[1] "Ye have chosen kings, but not by me; and princes, but I know them not." Hos. [Hosea 8:4.]

[2] [1 Samuel 8:13.]

[3] [Patriarcha, ch. 15.]